As anticipation reaches a frenzied height for the Kentucky Derby, those looking for betting tips on a horse and a tasty meal should stop in to Wagner’s Pharmacy.
Located across the street from the backside entrance to Churchill Downs, this eatery and sundry shop dates to 1922 and is an integral stop for the horse racing community. You will see owners, trainers, hot walkers, groomsmen, exercise riders, jockeys – all the racetrackers come by, especially for breakfast.
Bob Baffert, Dallas Stewart, Dale Romans, Greg Foley, Nick Zito – they all eat here. Once training is done, between 8-10AM, there is a breakfast rush. Biscuits and gravy, with a side of scrambled eggs, is the top seller around Derby time. The sausage gravy here is legend, and the homemade biscuits come out fresh and steaming from the oven every few minutes, and are said to be “The Best in Louisville.”
In fact, Esquire magazine named Wagner’s on its list of “Best Breakfast Places in America.”
The history of this place and Churchill Downs are framed all over the walls. Follow the memorabilia out of the dining room and it will take you to the diner’s other business.
The drug store used to be in back, but it stopped filling prescriptions in 2014 as business in the restaurant increased, and competition from big pharmacies nearby like Kroger and Walgreens, made it financially impractical to continue.
These days Wagner’s stocks more of a general store selection, along with souvenirs. Need the day’s racing form or a tip sheet? It’s here. Wagner’s Racehorse Liniment remains a hot seller, and they continue to stock vitamin supplements, pain killers and other veterinary/equine aids. Everything folks heading over to the track for the day, whether working or playing, might require.
By chance you unexpectedly need jockey silks, saddle towels or other horse racing related items, Wagner’s also has a tack shop next door. Becker and Durski have been supplying fine turf goods since 1875. Wagner’s bought the store in 1965, and at last count roughly 30 Derby winners have worn Becker & Durski silks.
Normally the diner opens at 8AM, but on Derby week it’s 7AM, and on Oaks Day and Derby it’s 6AM. The line will stretch around the corner of the building by the time the doors open Friday and Saturday.
Pull into the gravel lot on the side for parking. It ain’t fancy and neither is Wagner’s, but there will be folks in their Derby finest waiting, with big, colorful hats flying, along with guys covered in track dirt, all dining together at the tables, booths and lunch counter. Like with many things Derby, Wagner’s is a tradition.
I came for the cheeseburger. Actually make it a double, with bacon. It’s a big sucker and cooked right. The mac n’ cheese and milkshakes are stellar as well. Wagner’s is far from gourmet, but when you factor in atmosphere, location, history and characters – it goes five stars.
Where else can you go for a ham & egg biscuit and pick up a side of horse liniment.
Wagner’s Pharmacy | 3113 S. 4th Street | Louisville, KY | 502-375-3800